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People who are

Friday 7/14/23

The other day I'd written a letter to my two nieces and nephew about their Grammie, my mom. Last night in Medford, my mom, myself, the Admiral, and the Captain were talking about my mom's mom, my Grammie. The Captain and my mom have been best friends since the 1960s. These people are more family to me than any aunts, uncles, cousins. For the most part, I have one uncle I think of as family. The rest are just whatever. There's this big family reunion tomorrow, and I'm not going. I've been to enough of these to know it's just stupid to put myself through it.

People will come up to me and ask if I still do that "writing thing." Not one of them will have ever read anything, or even gone to this site. On Facebook, these very simple people will all support each other. But if one were to look at my Facebook page, one would see achievement upon achievement, and not a single person--including "family" so much as hitting the like button. They really aren't anything to me, save people to avoid. I have enough with which to deal. And no shortage of bad people to deal with in this war I'm in. It's the usual problem of greatness. It gets you shunned, feared, all of that. I'm treated differently than any of these people in my family treat everyone else in my family. My mother, of course, is well aware. My friend John called last night, and they spoke for a bit on the phone. I could hear him ask her if I was going to go to the family reunion tomorrow--he knows the deal--and she said no, and she wouldn't let me. Figure of speech. Obviously I could go. But she didn't want me to any more than I wanted to. A cousin today who only talks about themselves did ask me if there were reasons I never go to these things. I simply said there was and left it at that. The treatment over the years has altered my mother's relationship with these people. It's part of the reason she doesn't come to Boston much.

I do have a cousin who has some books. And this cousin talked to my mom about them like they were about me. Despite the characters being women. Girls. Children. Rock crabs. I was talking to John about that, what I call the hurdle of reality. People find it almost impossible to believe that someone could invent, let alone invent like I do, in the endless range and amounts. That it's not their life.

A woman the other day reached out to me about some woman in a story. They gave this terrible description. I couldn't even tell what she was talking about. But her belief was this woman in a story was some ex of mine or something. Because it'd have to be. People write me and they ask how many children I have. They don't believe I couldn't have children, given my writing. None if it is about me. I have an entire book in which all of the main characters are female. I'm not a female. These characters have lives of their own. They're beyond my life. It's their stories, not mine. They tell me their stories. In a way, I am simply their conduit. It's them. It's not me. It's their lives. Not mine. But this one cousin apparently thinks I'm this shape-shifter, a man one day, a woman the next, with a home here, a home there. Sometimes I'm a ghost. People are going to think you're as stupid as they are. As simple as they are. With the same limitations. They don't actually think I'm those things, of course, but they're in this habit of being this certain way. You can't get them over the hurdle of reality. Of human nature. Group-think could do it--that is, if everyone else was saying what ought to be said. But on their own? People are so weak. They don't have the confidence to think. They simply default to what their experiences have been.

I never had this problem, or any problem, with my mother's mother, my Grammie. I was the third grandkid to come along. There were lots of grandkids. But right from the first, we had a connection, and there was no one she loved more. It was something that was just known. These two people were very close. If Grammy had a look she shot someone, it was to me. She was mischievous, spirited, full of life. She was a simple woman in some ways. Certainly no intellectual. I doubt she read a book in her life. Flinty. Protective of those she loved.

I always remember loving her. She was a tomboy in her younger years, and as a mother she was a different person than as a grandmother. The Captain was surprised when my mom and I were talking about that flintiness, because she never saw it, knowing my grandmother mostly during the grandmother years.

My mother doesn't tell a lot of stories, but I've noticed that she's good at. My friend John and I met when we worked at the same hardware store when I was in college. I came to work my first day, and as I walked in a couple people were listening to him tell a story about this woman who tried to run him over on a beach or something the night before on Cape Cod. I thought, "This guy is very interesting." Immediately that's what I thought. The first thought I had about this man. We met through a story, with me coming arriving in media res. The irony being that he was the one telling the story, not I.

This weekend he'll read "What the Mouse Knew" and he'll read it to his girls, who have been anxiously awaiting it, having read "Best Present Ever" at Christmas, in which they're both immortalized, along with my sister's three kids. It's this beautiful passage, too, that will make you cry. Names were needed. They were names, not characters in the story--well, in a way they were characters, but you really have to see how it happens, because it's pure magic--and these five names happened to work really well and it would be something those five people would always have. They can say, "I am in that story." Publishing won't let anyone see the story right now. It's a Christmas story. And as I've said before--because it's true--it absolutely pastes Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Best Christmas work of art ever. And a lot more than a Christmas work of art. And also the first story in The Solution to the World's Problems, and where the title comes from. But with the people I'm closest to, there always seems to be an aspect of story.

My mom likes to tell this story of a Thanksgiving when I was I don't know, one or two. Thanksgiving was at Grammie's house. I don't like anything people eat on Thanksgiving. Not a Thanksgiving guy. In future years, she'd make me frozen pizza. Everyone was at the table and I was next to Grammie. I threw something on the floor, then repeated the act. My bad. My dad, who was across the table, said to my grandmother, "Marian, give him a little swot on the hand."

Everyone kind of stops eating, because my grandmother was staring down my dad.

"I will not," she said.

And that was final.

She was a big Red Sox fan. Huge. We'd watch games on Channel 38 together. Her favorites were Mo Vaughn and Pedro Martinez. She didn't get to see the Sox win in 2004, because she died in summer of 2000. She'd fallen in her house, which she loved. She was happy there. She'd had a hard life. She'd been married to an abusive alcoholic, and then later married a man born in 1899, who adopted my mom and her brother. Then there were three other brothers that followed. They had very little money. She was not a sentimental woman. As I said, flinty. No nonsense. Tough. Small in physical size. But tough. She won the lottery a weird amount of times. She kept notebooks full of numbers. No one had a clue what they meant. Apparently she had a system.

I'd take the train to Readville to visit her. She fell in her house and broke her hip, and had to go to a rehabilitation facility. She was in her eighties by then. All she talked about was going home. With my love for a house in Rockport rather than Readville, I very much understand this. But I understood it then, too. It became increasingly obvious that she wasn't going to go home. Her health was getting worse.

I'd still take the train to Readville, but this time I'd walk in the opposite direction, away from my grandmother's house, and towards the Blue Hills, at the foot of which was where her rehab facility was. Eventually she had a stroke and went into a coma. She was moved to the hospital not far from where my father--who would die in February of the following year--is buried.

My grandmother was always scared of death. I think a lot about time, and how much I have, because I intend to change the world to the good more than anyone ever has. That is what is in me. That is what I work towards. These are the stakes and there is more than the need. That is what my ability is for, my strength, the good qualities that make it so hard right now and have set so many against me. But I also know in a real way that I will always be alive, because I am my work. Or, rather, it is me. I am story. My grandmother was expected to die shortly after arrival, but she held on. There was no coming back, we were told. It was just a matter of the when.

I was working again at the time at another hardware store, which is ironic, because I'm the least handy person in the world and I was awful at the job. I was writing, which meant doing these pieces for a music magazine called Goldmine, and book reviews for this ridiculous woman named Evelyn Somers at The Missouri Review, who is still there, the sum total of her working and "creative" life being "associate editor" of The Missouri Review, and who watched me become more and more accomplished. The few things she published were almost always with venues in Missouri, because, of course, they were favor trades. Once she sent me a letter blaming her husband for her failures in her writing career. It was twenty years later and I had fiction in Harper's and because here was this guy who once was what a professor of mine termed her "book review whore" achieving all he achieved, there was no way this petty, talentless, envious nothing of a writer and a nothing of a person was going to let that guy have a story in The Missouri Review. Which is so comical. I mean, it's laughable. The Missouri fucking Review. Anyway, she's going to be the subject of her own entry on here, so we'll let that keep for now, and at least she can be known for something.

There was no one to stay overnight with my grandmother. After I was done at the hardware store, I went out to Milton to sit at her bed so she wouldn't die alone. But she didn't die that night. I went back and did it again the second night. I just sat there thinking about her. Her home. How much I loved her. How grateful I was for having her as my grandmother. Then in the morning people came in--aunts, uncles, cousins, whatever it was--and I went to work, practically falling over, at the hardware store. Then I went for a third night, the two of us alone again, and she still didn't die. Not until the next morning, when people were coming in. She didn't die alone.

My mom has a friend who likes me, and I'm pretty sure she mostly knows two things about me. What I just said about sitting with my grandmother, and that I had asked my mom if she could take that woman with dementia shopping so that she wouldn't have to walk there. My grandmother meant the world to me. This is more pronounced now, but when I was a kid there was no one like me. My mind wasn't like the mind of other kids. Nor was it like the mind of any adult. As I said, my grandmother was a simple woman. No education to speak of. We could be together for hours and hours. A weekend when I was a kid. She had an unconditional love for me as I had for her.

When I think about my mom and my nieces and my nephew, I'm thinking about my grandmother, too. True connection is a rare thing in this world, but connection fosters joy, and vice versa. Joy is something that resists qualification. Joy is joy. I don't think you can really say, "I had this much, whereas before, I had that much joy." What are the most important things in this life? Energy. Truth. Beauty. Connection. Joy.

And stories. Stories a person might write--or be told by the right characters--that can bring joy into the world, foster connection, course with beauty, hold the line of truth, while offering hope, guidance, and light. Laughter. Love. While never stinting on what is real, no matter what it is, what it invokes, what it means, so that whatever that is may seen the best that it can be seen. A framework of falsity cannot support joy nor connection.

And stories that get told on summer nights to people you've known a long time about people who are no more, but who also always are.


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